Joachim Low’s decision to leave the Manchester City winger of his squad for the World Cup is now looking even more ill-advised after defeat by Mexico.
As Lothar Matthaus struggled to come to terms with Germany’s shockingly poor performance in their World Cup opener against Mexico on Sunday, he admitted, “What scared me above all else, was that there are no players in the squad with good one-on-one dribbling skills.
“Many times during the game, I thought about the dropped Manchester City star Leroy Sane…”
He wasn’t alone. While the views expressed by Matthaus in his Bild column are often ignored by the German public, given his propensity for courting controversy, many others were also questioning the wisdom of coach Joachim Low’s decision to leave Sane, the PFA Young Player of the Year, out of his 23-man panel.
Indeed, Michael Ballack knew right away that the winger’s omission would be brought up at the first sign of trouble in Russia.
“Low is putting himself under massive pressure with this decision,” he wrote on Twitter when Sane’s absence was confirmed.
That pressure has only intensified after a 1-0 loss to Mexico that means Germany, the reigning champions, would be staring at an embarrassing early exit if they fail to break down a stubborn Sweden side in Sochi on Saturday.
Such a scenario is certainly conceivable when one considers just how badly Low’s men struggled to create chances at the Luzhniki Stadium. It was a painfully flat performance, with the German attack looking utterly devoid of any pace and penetration out wide.
In truth, the final scoreline flattered Germany, who were repeatedly caught out on the counter-attack by an energetic and exciting Mexican line-up. It also felt fitting that the game was ultimately decided by a well-taken goal from a speedy young winger.
It was even claimed that Hirving Lozano’s strike had been the catalyst for a minor earthquake back in Mexico. Sane’s omission from Germany’s squad had been less seismic but it did send shockwaves through English football.
Sane had been one of the stars of the 2017-18 campaign, scoring 14 times in all competitions, as well as racking up 15 assists (only Kevin De Bruyne had more) .
Granted, Sane had yet to replicate his sensational club form at international level – zero goals in 12 appearances for his country – but the 22-year-old was not the only player who had failed to impress in Germany’s warm-up games.
Furthermore, could any one of Germany’s other wingers or attacking midfielders – Julian Draxler (PSG), Mesut Ozil (Arsenal), Julian Brandt (Bayer Leverkusen), Marco Reus (Borussia Dortmund) and Thomas Muller (Bayern Munich) – really claim to have had a better domestic campaign?
One could certainly argue that Sane hadn’t done enough to warrant a place in Low’s line-up. But he, at least, deserved to travel to Russia.
Of course, the argument goes that Sane’s style of player was at odds with what Low demands of his wide men. However, as Ballack told Goal during the Betfair road to Russia preview, “It makes no sense at all. He had a great season.
“I think the way he plays football suits every team. There’s no tactical scheme which doesn’t allow him to not be in the first XI or even in the squad.
“It was surprising for me and for a lot of people. To get the final answer, you have to ask the coach Joachim Low what his thoughts were about that.
“He was comparing him with Brandt and, in a one-versus-one comparison, he decided with Brandt. But I don’t think that’s 100 per cent the answer, to be honest.
“I was not working with him on a daily basis but there must be something behind the scenes which forced him into that decision.”
Germany’s strikers coach, Miroslav Klose, insisted that there were no issues with Sane’s attitude, claiming that he was left out simply because he had not taken advantage of the opportunities he had given.
“He is incredibly talented and that he brings a pace you don’t see very often,” the World Cup’s all-time leading goalscorer admitted.
“He shows that in the Premier League, but, to be honest, he had many situations in training and during the games where he couldn’t establish himself.
“It was a hard decision. It was a decision for Julian [Brandt] and not against Leroy. It was really close.”
However, it was hard not to interpret Mats Hummels’ take on the debate as evidence that Sane’s perceived arrogance had counted against him.
“Leroy Sane has not the same standing as Thomas Muller or Mesut Ozil,” the Bayern Munich centre-half told reporters. “Sometimes it takes time to have the same standing in the national team as in your club.
“It is noticeable that the guys coming up from youth ranks – at Bayern too – are different guys to 10, 12 years ago.
“That is the new generation. They are characterised by a different behaviour, like on social media.
“I was always the youngest one in my team and I had to carry the goals. That is simply normal. Nowadays you notice some 18-year-olds don’t understand why they have to do this.
“I didn’t talk a single word in the Bayern locker room during the first weeks. I only talked to Stephan Furstner and Michael Rensing because I knew them from the second team.
“To everyone else, I maybe said ‘hello’, but today everything is faster and after one week players behave like they’ve already played three years for the team.”
Of course, the fact that some of Germany’s most experienced and decorated players flopped against Mexico hardly strengthened Low’s case for shunning Sane on the grounds of poor form for the national team.
Sami Khedira and Muller were particularly poor, while Mario Basler described Mesut Ozil as “having the body language of a dead frog”.
Unsurprisingly, such vicious criticism has not gone down well with several members of the squad, with Muller openly wondering why certain pundits had to make things quite so “personal”.
Germany, though, need to respond on the pitch, rather than off it. Beating Sweden is the only way to stop Matthaus, Basler and others criticising those who are there in Russia, and pining for those who are not.